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Hollywood comes to Capitol Hill to push for Social Security bill

Legislation would allow gay couples to access benefits

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Hal Sparks speaking at the Social Security equality press conference (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Los Angeles congresswoman beamed in support from Hollywood on Thursday to spread the word about legislation she introduced in the U.S. House to end inequities that same-sex couples face in the Social Security system.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said her legislation, the Social Security Equality Act, would allow gay families to gain access to the same survivor and pension benefits available to opposite-sex couples.

“The gay and lesbian population will not be told by their government that they are second-class citizens,” Sánchez said. “Same-sex couples pay into Social Security — they should receive the full benefits they have earned.”

Sánchez’s bill, H.R. 4609, would eliminate the Social Security Administration policy denying same-sex couples benefits. According to Sánchez, gay male couples receive 18 percent less in Social Security benefits than straight couples, while lesbian couples receive 31 percent less because women statistically earn less money.

Four types of Social Security benefits are denied to same-sex couples: spousal retirement benefits after one spouse retires; disability benefits if one spouse becomes disabled; survivor’s benefits, which allow surviving spouses to claim either their own Social Security benefit or an amount equal to the compensation that would have been afforded to their deceased spouse; and the death benefit, which provides for burial expenses.

The legislation, which was previously introduced in 2010, has 95 co-sponsors: all Democrats. The four openly gay members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — have all signed on in support.

Celebrities appeared at the news conference to advocate for the legislation alongside the lawmakers and LGBT advocates. Supporters carried signs reading “Outlaw Social Security Discrimination” and “Stop Economic Violence Against LGBT Seniors.” One sign was a mock Social Security card with “same-sex couples” written in the line allotted for a name.

George Takei (left) and his spouse Brad Altman (Blade photo by Michael Key)

George Takei, famed for his role as “Mr. Sulu” in the “Star Trek” series, appeared with his spouse, Brad Altman, and decried the hardship that same-sex couples face because of inequities in the Social Security system as “unfair and unjust.”

“There are same-sex couples who are denied equality often when misfortune befalls same-sex couples,” Takei said. “One falls ill, or tragically one might pass away. A survivor is left not only grieving, but financially insecure — and often the home they’ve built together, shared together is lost.”

Hal Sparks, known for his role as “Michael” in Showtime’s “Queer as Folk,” also spoke out against the current system for putting LGBT seniors in a position that is “not only emotionally difficult, but financially or physically dangerous.”

“It is odd for me, at this very moment, that as the law stands, I have rights that many of the people who are standing behind me, to my right and my left, do not have,” Sparks said. “If the law is not changed, they are headed toward a future that is more limited, more fractured and, quite frankly, more dangerous than mine.”

Another speaker at the event felt the discrimination under the current Social Security system firsthand. Alice Herman, from Los Angeles, a spokesperson for the grassroots group “Rock for Equality,” talked about the difficulties she faced after losing Sylvia, her partner of 45 years.

Even though both had paid into Social Security for more than 50 years, Herman at the age of 73 wasn’t able to receive survivor benefits following the death of her partner, who had a greater income. While Herman was a social worker, her partner worked in business and climbed the corporate ladder.

“When she died, much to my amazement, Social Security denied me the death benefit, then Social Security refused to provide me with the survivor’s benefit,” Herman said. “These denials came even though we were legally married. They dismissed our 45 together, our 45 years of love and commitment, our 45 years of contributing to society as meaningless.”

Had she been able to receive these benefits, Herman said she would have been able to stay in her home. However, she was forced to find another place to live because the only other option would be living in her car.

LGBT advocates also railed against the Social Security system for not providing gay couples the same benefits as others.

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean (right) and Linda Sanchez (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lorri Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, said same-sex couples pay into Social Security with every paycheck, but are unable to reap the full benefits of the system.

“Every single month, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center provides programs and services to thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors,” Jean said. “Too many come because they have been denied Social Security benefits.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, commended Sanchez for introducing the legislation and emphasized Social Security’s effectiveness at being “one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the nation’s history.”

“The Social Security Equality Act begins to give same-sex couples the dignity they deserve and the financial security they desperately need,” Carey said. “In a time of flat income for most Americans and disappearing pensions, it is absolutely vital for the government to protect our most vulnerable.”

Michael Adams, executive director of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, also stressed the need for the bill as a way to help LGBT elders.

“Whether it’s our LGBT community or our community as a whole, our elders are our pioneers,” Adams said. “They are the people who led the way for us, and the fact that in 2012, we are still having this argument over whether LGBT elders would be treated with dignity and respect and tolerance is outrageous.”

Adams said most seniors rely on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income, and LGBT elders need Social Security even more because they’re more likely to be living in poverty than opposite-sex couples. Additionally, Adams said LGBT elders are more likely to live single in their old age, and one-third of single elders rely on Social Security for their entire retirement income.

Despite the push by advocates, movement in the Republican-controlled House is unlikely. Nonetheless, Sánchez said she’s hopeful the legislation will receive a hearing in the House Ways & Means Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the bill.

Sánchez said she hasn’t had the opportunity to have a conversation with Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) about the bill because it has just been introduced, but said “that conversation will be taking place in the near future.” The Ways & Means Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment on the measure.

The legislation is being introduced relatively late in the 112th Congress compared to other LGBT bills, which were introduced at the start of last year. Sánchez said the bill was being introduced at this time because “there were certain legislative nuances to the bill that we had to work out.”

Advocates at the news conference also said talks were underway about a Senate companion, although no one would identify any potential Senate sponsors or give an estimate on when the legislation would be introduced.

It’s unclear whether the bill would be necessary if the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex couples, were overturned, or if further revision would be needed after DOMA is lifted to ensure same-sex couples are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Sánchez said she wants to push for DOMA repeal as she advocates for the Social Security Equality Act.

“Ultimately, DOMA is an issue that we have to deal with, and the preferable route would be to repeal DOMA,” Sánchez said. “But this is one step we can make on the path to making that happen and we’re hoping that if we get the support that we need and the grassroots to have this legislation pass — because it’s such a clear case of economic discrimination — then that undermines the arguments in DOMA.”

Jean talked about the need to overturn DOMA at the same time she pushed for passage of the new legislation.

“Of course, we still need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and ensure that same-sex couples are given all of the rights that are straight brothers and sisters enjoy,” Jean said. “But until that day, the Social Security Equality Act will make a crucial difference to countless elderly people.”

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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Acclaimed gay doctor to be honored at LGBT History Month event

Pediatric cardiologist moved from Louisiana to N.Y. in protest over anti-LGBTQ bills

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Dr. Jake Kleinmahon, his husband Tom, and their kids.

Dr. Jake Kleinmahon, a gay pediatric cardiologist and pediatric heart transplant specialist, is scheduled to be honored Oct. 1 by the Equality Forum at its annual LGBT History Month Kickoff and Awards Celebration in Philadelphia.

He has been named a recipient of the Equality Forum’s 28th annual International Role Model Award. 

Kleinmahon became the subject of national news media coverage in early August when he announced he was leaving the state of Louisiana with his husband and two children and ending his highly acclaimed medical practice in New Orleans after the state legislature passed bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

He had been working since 2018 as the medical director of pediatric heart transplant, heart failure, and ventricular assist device programs at Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans.

Kleinmahon told the Washington Blade his and his family’s decision to leave New Orleans was a difficult one to make. He said it came after the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature passed three anti-LGBTQ bills, including a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill targeting public schools and a bill banning transition-related medical care for transgender youth.

The state’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, vetoed all three bills. But the legislature overturned his veto of the bill banning transition-related medical care for trans minors beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

Kleinmahon said he and his family moved at the end of August to Long Island, N.Y., after he accepted a new job as director of pediatric heart transplant, heart failure and ventricular assist devices at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in the town of New Hyde Park, which is located along the border of the Borough of Queens in New York City and Nassau County, Long Island.

“The decision to leave is not one that we took lightly at all,” Kleinmahon told the Blade. “And it was not one because I got a better job or other factors,” he said. “The main driver for it was that as we realized where things were going, we were raising our children in a state that was actively trying to make laws against your family,” he said in a phone interview. “And that’s not the type of environment that we want to raise our kids in.”

Kleinmahon said he and his husband Thomas timed their move to Long Island at the end of August so their daughter, who’s seven, could begin school at the start of the school year and their son, who’s four, could begin pre-kindergarten sessions.

“We have been open with our children about why we’re moving because we think it’s important that they carry on this message as well,” said Kleinmahon, who noted that his daughter expressed support for the move.

“We were at the dinner table one night and we were explaining what happened,” Kleinmahon said. “And she goes, you know daddy, we do have a choice, but there is only one good one. And she agreed with our moving to New York.”  

Kleinmahon acknowledges that some in New Orleans, which is considered an LGBTQ supportive city in general, questioned his decision to leave on grounds that the two bills that would directly impact him and his family did not become law because the governor’s veto of the two bills were upheld.

“One of the things I’ve heard is that none of these really directly affect a family because the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill didn’t go into effect, and my children are not transgender, and I don’t work in a transgender clinic,” he told the Blade.

“But that’s really not the point,” he continued. “The way we think about it as a family, the people who are elected officials that are supposed to take care of the people in their state are casting votes against our families,” he points out. “So, sure, while the laws may not be in effect this year, certainly there’s a push to get them passed. And why would we want to remain in a state that is trying to push forward hateful laws?”

He said he will begin his new job at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island on Nov. 1.

“They have been incredibly supportive,” Kleinmahon said. “They have actually encouraged me to be open with why we left Louisiana,” he said. “And they have a Pride resource group that’s reached out to me to lend their support,” he said, adding that the hospital and its parent company have been “exceptional in helping us make this transition.”

During his medical practice at Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans, Kleinmahon has been credited with helping to save the lives of many children suffering from heart-related ailments. He said his decision to leave behind his colleagues and patients was difficult.

“Unfortunately, it had ramifications for the kids in Louisiana, which was the hardest part for me,” he said. “And the reason for that is I was one of three pediatric heart transplant cardiologists, and I was the director of the only pediatric heart transplant program in Louisiana.”

He added, “While there are two other fantastic heart transplant cardiologists in Louisiana, the ability to keep a program running that serves an entire state needs a full army of people. And me leaving took 33 percent of that army away.”

He said he was also one of just two pediatric pulmonary hypertension providers in the state, and he just learned that the other provider had also left Louisiana recently. Pulmonary hypertension doctors provide treatment for people with the condition of high blood pressure in their lungs.

Regarding his extensive experience in treating and caring for children with heart disease, Kleinmahon, in response to a question from the Blade, said about 400 children receive heart transplants in the U.S. each year.

While heart transplants for kids are not as frequent as those for adults, he said kids needing a heart transplant and their families “deal with a tremendous amount of stress and medical appointments that really change their life,” including the need to take medication to prevent the body from rejecting a new heart for the rest of the children’s lives.

“My hope as a transplant doctor is that I can get these kids to live as normal a life as possible,” he said.

In addition to presenting its International Role Model Award to Kleinmahon, the Equality Forum was scheduled on Oct. 1 at its LGBT History Month event to present its Frank Kameny Award to Rue Landau, the first LGBTQ Philadelphia City Councilperson. It was also scheduled to present a Special Memorial Tribute to the late Lilli Vincenz, the longtime D.C.-area lesbian activist and filmmaker credited with being a pioneering LGBTQ rights activist beginning in the early 1960s.

“I am beyond humble to receive this award that is really not an award for me but is an award for my family and for families like ours and for people that are going to continue to fight discriminatory policies,” Kleinmahon said.

Blade editor Kevin Naff will present Kleinmahon with the award on Oct. 1 in Philadelphia.

“Dr. Kleinmahon and his family took a brave stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community and they deserve our gratitude,” Naff said. “I’m excited and honored to present him with the International Role Model Award.”

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